If you’ve ever stared into an open fridge pondering what nutritious foods you should eat, you know that eating healthy can be challenging. To assist our readers in making smart nutrition purchases, we turned to an expert in the field of nutrition.
Molly Bremer, M.S., R.D., is the director and dietitian at Mosaic Nutrition based in Burlington, Vermont. She received her professional training at Virginia Tech where she earned a Bachelor of Science and graduated magna cum laude. She went on to earn a Master of Science. Bremer completed a dietetic internship at The University of Virginia Health System. Her areas of expertise include eating disorder treatment, sports nutrition and women’s health, all through a Health at Every Size (HAES) and Intuitive Eating lens.
Q. You're BestReviews' nutrition expert. How did you get into the field of nutrition?
MB: A few different events led up to this role as a dietitian. When I was in high school, I wasn't exactly sure what career I wanted to go into. My dad encouraged me to look for any profession that would “help.” He recognized that I’ve always felt motivated to work with and for people.
Then, during high school, I got to participate in a great program where we were able to shadow different professionals and get hands-on experience. I ended up shadowing an occupational therapist, a speech-language pathologist and a physical therapist for a few weeks.
After those experiences, I was convinced that I was interested in going into physical therapy and entered college as an exercise science major. Once I was in college, however, I soon realized that I was spending my free time reading nutrition articles. That’s when I decided to change my major to nutrition. In hindsight, that decision to change majors may have also been in part due to my own personal struggles with disordered eating.
I think this passion-to-profession pipeline is true for many working people. My personal experience has shaped my passion for high integrity and evidence-based nutrition care.
Q. With so many options on the market, it can be difficult for consumers to find the nutrition products that make sense for them. What's your advice for people shopping in this current e-commerce climate?
MB: It’s very common for people to feel overwhelmed when trying to figure out what products make the most sense to purchase. That's part of the reason why I am excited to be part of the BestReviews team.
I think that in general, nutrition is oftentimes overcomplicated when it's truly quite simple. I like to encourage people to think about the basics: Are you getting a mix of the five different food groups? Are you having a variety of foods within those groups? Are you including fun foods? Are you drinking enough water? Zooming out and clarifying what nutrition- or food-related goals you have makes the product decision process easier.
Q. How has your experience shaped your expertise and approach to making purchasing decisions?
MB: My experience as a dietitian has definitely shaped my professional approach to making purchasing decisions. In general, my purchases shifted to be more intentional — trying to match what I buy to my values and goals. For example, I value having quick and convenient food on hand, and one of my goals is to make a nutritious and satisfying breakfast. I try to make sure I have some staple breakfast foods (e.g., toast, eggs, milk, cereal) and ingredients for a smoothie always on hand in order to do so. This also means that I try to find products that can alleviate stress and extra time. I love my glass Tupperware, Stasher bags and an easy-to-clean blender.
Q. How does your philosophy as an expert align with BestReviews’ mission to simplify purchasing decisions?
MB: I feel strongly about doing values-aligned work and, when deciding to work with BestReviews, I was drawn to the publication’s mission of simplifying purchasing decisions by offering high-quality and thoroughly tested products. I believe that food and nutrition should be made as easy as possible. If we were going to purchase something ourselves, we should try to get the best product without wasting our time and money on different goods and services that won’t produce the best results.
Q. What are some healthy eating tips that most people should follow regardless of their age?
MB: It is challenging to give general nutrition advice since individuals have varying genetics, environmental influences, socioeconomic statuses, etc. That said, there are certainly themes that are important to consider regardless of different factors.
It is important for everyone to consider adequacy, consistency and variety. Adequacy basically means, "Am I eating enough?" As humans, we have nutrition and caloric needs that vary from person to person and based on our daily regimens, but regardless of why clients are seeing me (eating disorders, women’s health, sports nutrition, etc.), adequacy is where we typically start our work together.
Consistency is equally important. Unlike cars, our bodies need fuel every few hours. A general rule of thumb that I tell clients is to try to eat one hour after waking up and every two to three hours after that. That typically equates to three meals and two-to-three snacks per day. For variety, I encourage clients to include a variety of food groups and foods within each group for pleasure.
Q. Many people get into the habit of eating fast or processed foods. What advice do you have for someone who has been eating an unhealthy diet but wants to start eating nutritious foods?
MB: This is a question that I often get from clients in general and especially from parents who are trying to offer their kids a variety of nutritious foods. I will start by saying that nutrition is often viewed as black and white (eat this, not this and good food vs. bad food), but the discussion really needs to be treated with nuance. There are no “good” or “bad” or “healthy” or “unhealthy” foods. I share this in response to this question because when we have a more neutral or positive relationship with food, we can develop more neutrality around food.
Food neutrality can be really tricky to develop because we're so used to labeling foods as good and bad. We associate food with morality. If, for example, I am taught that ice cream is bad, then I must also be bad for eating ice cream. That's certainly not a healthy mindset, especially for children who are learning the different ins and outs of nutrition to have at a young age.
So, rather than labeling foods as unhealthy or processed, I often encourage parents (and clients) to name the foods as they are: pizza, rice, salad, mac and cheese and cookies. Neutralizing the foods removes any idea that rice is “better” than tortillas or that salads are “better” than mac and cheese; these foods are just food.
Q. Do you have nutrition recommendations for vegans and vegetarians? How can they get adequate amounts of quality protein in their diets?
MB: Vegans and vegetarians have different considerations with regard to their diet. Typically I recommend that vegans take a vegan supplement, which usually includes B12, vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids. I also encourage vegans and vegetarians to get blood work done and to review the results and supplementation with their doctor.
Regarding protein options for vegans and vegetarians, I recommend tofu, edamame, seitan, tempeh, lentils, nutritional yeast, spelt, peas, quinoa, bread from sprouted greens, soy milk and eggs. Our bodies can produce some amino acids on our own, but we need to get some of them (the nine essential amino acids) from food in order to have a “complete” protein. This is more of a challenge for people who do not consume animal products. I recommend having a variety of the protein options listed above on a daily basis.
Q. What are some of the benefits of snacking? What are your favorite nutritious snacks that are both tasty and satisfying?
MB: Snacks are a wonderful tool that acts as a bridge between meals. Typically when we eat a meal, our blood sugar rises. Then, as we are digesting the food, it will go back down. Snacks can help maintain these “rolling hills” in our blood sugar levels, thus avoiding mountains (hyperglycemia) and valleys (hypoglycemia) that can happen if we are solely eating two to three large meals per day. When we include snacks in our daily routines, our energy levels are more stable, our moods are improved, we are able to stay more focused and we are less irritable.
Some of my favorite snacks include tuna salad with crackers, smoothies (with frozen fruit, frozen spinach, oatmeal, ground flaxseed, peanut butter and Greek yogurt) and a pastry with milk and a spoonful of peanut butter. For most people, I recommend eating two to three snacks a day, which I know can sound like a lot. But if we don't snack then we fall into those valleys of blood sugar, which can be even more detrimental.
Q. From college students to new parents to busy professionals, how can people with full schedules still eat healthily?
MB: This is a question that comes up often during my sessions. I would recommend first assessing the “pain points” in your eating habits. For example, if I am noticing that when I am particularly busy, I often lean on takeout foods for dinner. Although takeout is not generally aligned with my values, I try to investigate in a nonjudging way the function that it’s playing in my life. I assume that the theme of saving time and effort could be at play here, so when I look into alternatives to takeout (maybe using frozen or canned foods for all or part of my dinners, or maybe meal-planning and cooking bulk meals), I understand that my goals are still to save time and effort.
As a quicker, more tactical suggestion, I also recommend having easy grab-and-go foods, such as protein bars, whole or cut-up fruit or packages of trail mix, nearby so that when you are in a bind, you have nutritious food at your disposal.
Q. What are some small appliances and kitchen tools that make it easy to cook healthful meals?
MB: In an effort to make things more simple and more efficient, I would recommend that people have a good cookware set that includes all the basic equipment needed to cook a variety of foods. I also recommend getting a garlic press since garlic is a staple in recipes, and having a press can save us from doing the tedious labor of mincing. I am not a big fan of washing dishes, and I love to have a small and easy-to-clean blender where I can make smoothies and drink from the container I blended it in. Having a slow cooker has also been game-changing for me. I love that I can throw in a bunch of ingredients and my meal is ready by the time I am done with work.
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Jennifer Manfrin writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
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